January 31, 2023

Sitrep for January 30-31 (as of 2:00 p.m.)

The situation on the frontline

South of Bakhmut, Russian forces are trying to advance northwest from the captured Klishchiivka towards the highway connecting Bakhmut with Kostiantynivka. They have made the most progress along the Siverskyi Donets — Donbas canal.

The situation in the area of Bakhmut is becoming more and more difficult for the AFU, since the supply route from Siversk is no longer available, and the remaining routes — highways to Sloviansk and Kostiantynivka — are becoming dangerous for travel, as they are already within the RuAF range of fire. Besides, these routes are too close to the line of contact, and only small country roads are at a safe distance from it. After analyzing the current situation, OSINT analyst Def Mon concludes that if the current pace of the Russian offensive continues, the AFU will have to leave Bakhmut in two to four weeks.

There was a video showing the evacuation of a Russian sniper, which was geolocated south of Bakhmut, 3 km south of the highway connecting Bakhmut and Kostiantynivka.

To date, the Russian strategy of recent months can already be analyzed. During the second half of fall and the beginning of winter, the Russian command tried to drag out the war by holding the frontline (for a long time the Wagner Group was the only unit pursuing hardly successful offensive attempts to capture Soledar and Bakhmut). Massive missile strikes on the territory of Ukraine, according to the plan, were supposed to result in the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country and a new wave of Ukrainian refugees in Europe, which, in turn, were to result in increased diplomatic pressure on President Zelenskyy to compel him to start negotiations.

By mid-winter, however, it became clear that this tactic had failed. The Ukrainian energy system did not collapse, and Europe continues to support Ukraine with new deliveries of heavier weapons.

It is possible that because of that the Russian command made a decision to start a large-scale offensive along the entire front line, so that by the time that deliveries of Western military vehicles reach Ukraine, the Ukrainian Armed Forces would be forced to hold defensive positions and not be able to initiate a significant counter-attack.

The Ukrainian “Censor.net” [No Censorship] publication compiled a map of Russian advances on Bakhmut starting on May 30, 2022, after capturing Popasna. In the following 8 months Russian forces were able to advance between 11 and 28 kilometers to the west of Popasna. During the past 2 months, when the fighting in the area intensified significantly, the advance was limited to between 2 and 10 kilometers. The reason for the slow advance is the proximity of a well fortified line of Bakhmut — Soledar.

A video has been published showing shelling of Ukrainian positions (trenches with soldiers) by Russian artillery in the village of Vremivka (near Velyka Novosilka, just west of Vuhledar) on the Vuhledar axis.

Increased fighting continues on the Zaporizhzhia axis near the town of Orikhiv and village of Kamianske.

Situation has remained unchanged in the direction of Svatove and Kreminna.

Currently the only area with no ground fighting is the Kherson axis.

Ukrainian forces have struck a Russian region near the border again, this time hitting the village of Bezlyudovka in the Belgorod region, wounding 2 people.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has offered to supply weapons, military vehicles, and technical resources to volunteer regiments. Since the Russian Ministry of Defense has previously referred to the Wagner Group as “volunteer assault regiment”, this statement can only refer to them. The mercenaries have de-facto already been equipped with heavy military vehicles (including tanks and aircraft) and ammunition from the reserves of the Ministry of Defense, now it could be done legally in the open.

According to independent observers,  Russian mobilization reserves  will be enough for 2-3 years of the war. However, there have been numerous complaints from Russian servicemen about poor equipment, lack of shells and military vehicles. Perhaps, the state of these stocks turned out to be much worse than expected, or the recommission took more resources, including manpower (earlier, the lack of trained personnel was reported). Therefore, the question about how this situation will affect the frontline in the coming months remains open.

The Washington Post has confirmed that the USA will send Abrams tanks to Ukraine no earlier than the end of 2023.

The UK Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace clarified that Challenger 2 tanks would be, most likely, sent to Ukraine by Easter (Apr. 9), but in any case this would happen before summer. The training schedule of Ukrainian servicemen is not disclosed for safety reasons.

Joe Biden, while talking to the media, has responded negatively about the F-16 fighter jets supply to Ukraine. According to National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, Washington is already supplying enough weaponry to Kyiv and moreover, these are those kinds of weaponry which are going to have a critical effect on both winter and spring campaigns.

Thus, both statements by Poland and the Netherlands about them being ready to send their F-16s to Ukraine (or to consider this issue) are not going to make any practical sense in the near future.

Spokesman of the Air Force Command of the AFU Yuriy Ihnat says that the Ukrainian Air Force will need about 200 F-16 fighter jets to re-equip the country's military aviation.

Emmanuel Macron, answering a journalists’ question, said that France did not rule out the delivery of Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft to Ukraine (French production; no additional permits are required for their transfer). However, he laid out multiple conditions before such a significant step was taken like no further escalation or weakening “the capacities of the French Army.” The same conditions were previously specified regarding the transfer of French Leclerc tanks.

Macron also emphasized that in the event of the transfer of fighter jets to Ukraine, they should not be used “to touch Russian soil.” After that, statements were published by Chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine Kyrylo Budanov and Advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Mykhailo Podolyak, who denied that Ukraine had anything to do with strikes on Russian territory, including Engels Air Base, Dyagilevo Air Base, and the Crimean Bridge. According to them, the attacks were made either as a result of the civil unrest inside Russia, or by Russian troops themselves. This shows that the target audience for such statements by Ukrainian officials are Western politicians who fear that the supply of long-range weapons will lead to strikes on targets deep in Russia.

Near Vuhledar, where marines are fighting from the Russian side, we have seen the use of Ka-52 helicopters that fire 9K121 Vikhr air-launched anti-tank missiles (about 10 km range) at the Ukrainian military vehicles and personnel for several days in a row. This indicates the need for additional air defense supplies to Ukraine sufficient not only to protect the most important facilities in Kyiv and other cities, but also for use directly on the front line.

Photos of the 60 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles being loaded in the state of South Carolina for shipment to Ukraine have been published.

Several Western military experts analyzing the perspective of spring counter-offensives notice that the situation at the front this year is different from last year. They point out that now a significant part of the military forces on both sides consists of mobilized soldiers, who are less trained compared to regular military personnel. This affects the effectiveness of military operations and the number of losses. The last reports of rotation of Ukrainian troops came during the summer of 2022. We are yet to see the reports about normal rotation among Russian troops. Sometimes the units get withdrawn a little further than the line of contact — about 20 km or so — but this could hardly be considered as a good rest. There are units of mobilized soldiers who have never been on the battlefield since their mobilization. They were in training at the Belarusian and Russian training grounds and are ready to replace the combat units. About two weeks have passed since the arrival of these soldiers in the Voronezh region but there is no news about the rotation yet. Probably there is not enough manpower to carry out an adequate rotation. This is another sign of the inevitability of the second wave of mobilization.
We observe the following trend in the situation of desertion. If a soldier flees the front line, hides somewhere for a while, but then turns himself in and pledges guilty, he would receive a suspended sentence. However, if he were caught and did not confess to deserting his punishment would be a term in a penal settlement. In December, some people who deserted the front line and received a suspended sentence were discharged from the Army even after the beginning of mobilization. However, it is unknown whether the outcome would be the same in the current situation.